We were entertained at our May meeting by Frank Hardy – ex-Vice Principle of Pershore -who spoke about the way gardening has changed since the 1950s. I’m not quite sure what most of us expected, but we ended up learning a lot, and laughing a lot too. Gardening has indeed changed enormously – and it’s not something you really think about.
For instance, when Mr Hardy started working in horticulture, his first job was making up seed trays. No plastic ones, but ones made from timbers, recycled fish or ammo boxes. His supervisors worked in waistcoats, with gleaming watch chains, and he thought that was how his working life was going to be. Like this illustration from a 1950s gardening manual, essentially.
There were no plastic pots, of course: something most of us take for granted nowadays. Plastic pots were introduced in 1959 and became popular in professional gardening not so much because they were cheaper, but because they absorbed the heat, and you got a bigger plant in a shorter time – commercial reasons driving change, as so often.
Then he described plans of the average garden over time, and it was interesting to see how various areas shifted in importance – with the vegetable patch shrinking and the areas given over to leisure increasing, with formal beds giving way to more informal planting, with greenhouses declining in importance (and number – from over 3 million at the end of the 60s to half that by the end of the 70s).
We all know that plants go in waves of fashionability too, but here again he was extremely interesting – and had brought along examples to illustrate his points. In the 1960s, roses were extremely popular – in fact, by the end of the decade the average garden had 25 different ones – and about half were sold through the News of the World. The first garden centre (as opposed to nursery) opened in 1962.
Bedding plants, grown by amateur gardeners and sold locally, became really popular in the late 60s and early 70s, and by then beds were becoming more informal – but the 1970s was really the era of conifers and heathers. Mr Hardy pointed out that you can easily spot gardens planted then because the conifers – now much, much larger than they were ever intended to be – still dominate.
Of course, we can all think of fashions today: how about grasses or wildflower meadows grown from seed? Or decking and the tendency for form – lots of hard landscaping – over content – plants and other green stuff – in recent years? And we’re coming back to vegetables now. Wonder how long that will last…
A fascinating evening. Certainly made us not take our seed trays for granted!
(And some lovely plants for sale too – many thanks.)
Here, to end, is the classic hybrid tea rose of the 1960s – though it was actually developed in France before WW2, was sent abroad just in time to avoid the German invasion and had its name formally adopted on the on the day that Berlin fell to the Allies: Peace.
(The original grower, Meilland, wrote to Alanbrooke in early 1945 to thank him for the part he played in liberating France, and offered to name the rose after him. Alanbrooke declined the honour, and said that a better name would be ‘peace’.)
Such a shame that roses do not do particularly well round here. Unless they’re Rosa rugosa, that is.